Jonathan Groff on his big Frozen 2 song and why he was worried it'd get cut
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Frozen 2.
After all, Groff earned Tony nominations for his roles in the Broadway musicals Spring Awakening and Hamilton (maybe you’ve heard of it?), and he played Jesse St. James in the musical-comedy series Glee. In other words, the man can sing.
Much to his (and fans’) delight, Frozen 2 rectifies this issue with the ’80s soft-rock ballad “Lost in the Woods,” which his character Kristoff sings surrounded by reindeer. The scene is reminiscent of cheesy music videos of the era and is one of the film’s highlights.
Ahead of Frozen 2’s opening weekend, Groff spoke with EW about his first reaction to the song, why he was worried it would get cut, the importance of seeing “a Disney leading man with a sensitive side,” and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The only solo snippet we got from you in the first Frozen was the short number “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People.” Were you aware going into the second film that people were upset that you didn’t sing more in the original?
JONATHAN GROFF: Well, that’s actually funny you say that about the reindeer thing because I feel like with Frozen 2, they didn’t take the easy route, which would have been to do a re-creation of the first movie or introduce a bunch of new characters. They just sort of dug in deeper with the characters from the first movie and cooked things and expanded on them. And they told me they were going to try and write me a song for the second movie, and I couldn’t imagine how they were going to do it. And then part of what inspired that song that I get in the second film is this weird personality quirk that Kristoff has where he expresses his emotions and subconscious through that weird voice for his pet reindeer, Sven — just as many of us who have pets do weird voices for — and that was sort of a funny joke in the first movie. Then in the second movie that quirk ends up becoming an entire ’80s soft-rock jam, and it’s sort of Kristoff’s way of expressing his deep, deep emotional feelings that he has for Anna. So they took that little quirk from the first movie and then expanded it into this intimate epic ’80s number.
What was your first reaction whenever they introduced you to the song and its concept?
I honestly couldn’t believe that they were going to take such a left turn. I thought, “Oh, I can’t imagine that an ’80s slow jam is going to not get cut from the final product of Frozen 2,” because it was so shocking and surprising and jarring. And I think that’s part of what makes it so brilliant in the movie. It’s also really kind of a gift for the adults watching the movie because, you know, I’ve seen it three times, and the adults in the crowd are the ones that are getting all of the kind of ’80s references in the animation and the sort of execution of the song. The kids are laughing too, but the adults are the ones that are really in on the joke, and I’m thrilled that it made it into the final cut.
It’s so funny you say that, because earlier this week I was talking with a co-worker who had taken her daughter to a screening of the film. And she said her daughter got so mad at that part because she couldn’t understand why all the adults were laughing at Kristoff.
[Laughs] They’re like, “Kristoff is really going through it!” It’s so funny because it makes sense. Even when we were recording it, I talked a lot with [composers Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez] about toeing the line between emotion and camp, and telling the joke of the song, but also doing it with real sincerity. Because those songs from the ’80s, they’re not making a joke. I mean, it seems like it’s funny now because they are such a music of a specific time period. But in those moments of those videos, it was a more innocent time. And there was a purity to it that we sort of laugh at now, but that purity is also actually what the character is feeling. So it was fun to kind of just have that balance of awareness and camp, but also actual emotion that maybe that little girl is plugged into, of “He’s really going through it.”
And you provided the vocals for all the reindeer in the song too, right?
Yeah, I think it’s like 18 different vocal tracks that I laid in. It was the Kristoff and the Kristoff harmonies, and then the Sven background and the Sven background harmonies.
So we went from having not enough Jonathan Groff to having —
Eighteen different vocal lines. [Laughs] Yeah, it’s chock-full in that particular song.
The film of course features plenty of empowering moments for young girls, but do you feel like having Kristoff sing a song might also be empowering to the little boys who are watching?
I really do think so. I love that Kristoff is a Disney leading man with a sensitive side. And that’s what this song really expresses, is sort of his soulfulness. And oftentimes in entertainment, we’re seeing a man go off on an adventure and a girl left back at home singing about her feelings. And then this, as Frozen often does, they inverted it, and Anna goes off on an epic adventure and Kristoff is left to sing about his feelings and his love for her. And then when he joins the action towards the end of the film, he’s not there to sort of take control and take the spotlight. He’s there to support her. He rescues her from getting stomped on by a giant, and the first thing he says is, “I’m here for you, what do you need?” I think we really need to hear men saying that to women right now, culturally. And then at the end of the movie, she’s like, “I’m sorry that things are so crazy.” And he says, “It’s okay, my love is not fragile.” And that sort of enduring, supportive partner is, I think, a beautiful thing to have in an animated movie, both as an example for women of what they deserve and for men to take a page from Kristoff’s book.
Speaking of Kristoff’s playbook, how would you rate his proposal in the end?
I think he nailed it because it came from the heart. And he meant it. He just felt it in the moment. It’s not that the other proposals were failures. It just wasn’t there. He saw it as a failure, I think, because he was feeling self-conscious, but it just was not the right time. And I think he spoke from the heart at the right time. I think that’s all you can ask when you’re expressing your deepest feelings for someone, which is just to know when the moment is to say it, and it just so happened that the three previous times weren’t the exact right moment.
A third film has not officially been announced, but if you could envision a song for Kristoff in a potential sequel, what would it be like?
Oh, this is a really tough question because I couldn’t even imagine how Kristoff was going to sing in the second movie. I was like, “How are they going to get a mountain man to sing a song?” And they were so sweet, Bobby and Kristen, for saying, “We’re going to really try and get you to sing in this one.” And they ended up creating that ’80s ballad that I could have never in my wildest dreams imagined would have happened. So, I honestly have no idea.
Well, at the end of the film Anna becomes queen, which would make Kristoff the king… so maybe a riff on another song in the Disney canon, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”?
[Laughs] That’s the irony of it, though, is that that’s not what he’s angling for. He’s just there to support her. I don’t know, is he a king if really the queen is the ruler? Yes, I guess he is, technically. It’s definitely not a position that he ever was anticipating or had the ambition to have. So maybe the words would have to change if we did that song.
Frozen 2 is in theaters now.